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Tomasz Stanko Quintet at RNCM Theatre, Manchester

David McLean By

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Tomasz Stanko Quintet RNCM Theatre Manchester, England
October 11, 2009

Tomasz StankoThe fire hinted at in Tomasz Stanko's most recent album, Dark Eyes (2009, ECM), has become the focal point of his new quintet's live operations. Whereas the trumpeter's latest ECM disc ferments with economical restraint and brooding atmosphere, the live incarnation of this material takes the looser and fierier elements of Dark Eyes and brings them to the foreground, creating a new panoramic view of the original source. Each player's role is more pronounced and more individual; it's clear that the group's recent touring has allowed the compositions to snowball into their own distinct beasts.
Tonight, Manchester's RNCM is home to the trumpeter's far edgier incarnation: a consolidation of the Polish master's freer past and poetically composed present. The music summoned indoors perfectly mirrors the weather outside; dark in melodic color, wet in its fluidity with momentous flare ups of the elements, reflecting moments of brilliant neon light in the pools of the asphalt.
As is to be expected, Stanko was in magnificent form during the entire performance, cementing his position as one of European Jazz's most celebrated artists. His grainy tone was atmosphere swallowing—displaying rough, lyrical caresses on "Dirge for Europe" and "So Nice"; abandoning form and melody while delivering smoldering sections of "Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch" and "Last Song" in molten sheets of sound. But the Dark Eyes quintet is not just another vehicle for Stanko to show his mastery: the trumpeter gave ample room throughout the entire performance for his collaborators to show their own merit.
Bassist Anders Christensen's low-end murmurings took on a cavernous quality in this live setting in a role far meatier and more forceful than was his custom. Playing mostly rhythm, pianist Alexi Tuomarila anchored the sound with occasional flourishes of tasteful dexterity. With the end of the trumpeter's partnership with pianist Marcin Wasilewski, Stanko's interest in a suitable component for the group seems to have shifted to the workings of Jakob Bro. The guitarist's aquatic tone underpinned the vast majority of the pieces played and was prominent in the many the solo opportunities he undertook. His methodical filigrees on "Terminal 7" created new landscapes of melody, each compatible scale played with an elemental flow. Along with the technically gifted Olavi Louhivuori on drums, this rhythmic pairing matched the trumpeter perfectly in his ashen subtlety and free wheeling recklessness. Louivuori's connection with Stanko was particularly telepathic, managing to halt the latter's muscular propulsion on "Grand Central" with simple nod.

From left: Alexi Tuomarila, Olavi Louhivouri, Tomasz Stanko
Jakob Bro, Anders Christensen



"The Dark Eyes of Marth Hirsch," the album's centre piece, acted as a platform for each of the musicians to declare their individuality in definitive form in the work's solo pockets, earning rapturous applause from the audience. Ending with a majestic and melancholy reading of Krzysztof Komeda's classic "Rosemary's Baby," the quintet's evolution on the bruise-blue colors of Stanko's original compositions is a blossoming that has to be seen, especially when done justice by the RNCM's pristine sound.

Photo Credit Michael Chance

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